Rock Style fashion exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Knights in customer service: Kiss's Simmons and Stanley preen for the Rock Hall crowd. - WALTER  NOVAK
  • Walter Novak
  • Knights in customer service: Kiss's Simmons and Stanley preen for the Rock Hall crowd.
It was only a coincidence that Kiss, on a farewell tour that's 20 years overdue, happened to be in town for two shows at Gund Arena a mere week before the opening of Rock Style, a new exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum that focuses on fashion and rock and roll. While they didn't actually go through the exhibit, the fact that bassist Gene Simmons and singer Paul Stanley stopped at the Rock Hall on May 5 to sign autographs can only provide it a much-needed boost.

By the time Simmons and Stanley arrived at the Rock Hall at 4 p.m. as scheduled, they were greeted by a couple hundred fans, who brought items such as dolls, posters, vinyl, and even guitars to be signed by the duo. While Kiss wrote a few good songs way back when, it hasn't delivered a good album in years and can't succeed without its outfits (see the dreadful "unplugged" record the band released in 1995). In addition, Kiss has given birth to present-day imitators such as Slipknot and the Insane Clown Posse, two acts whose popularity stems simply from the fact that they put on costumes and engage in flamboyant theatrics. Still, that didn't stop the masses from giving Kiss a heroes' welcome.

Wearing the outfits that have made them recognizable throughout the world, Simmons, who incessantly twirled his well-endowed tongue as if it were some kind of oral corkscrew, and Stanley didn't use the microphones set up onstage to make a statement of any sort -- they just started signing items and individually greeting members of the crowd, who were led, five at a time, to the stage on the ground floor of the Rock Hall. Some fans wore white makeup in honor of the occasion, but Paul Sidoti, who plays in the local Kiss cover band Mr. Speed, even showed up in full costume with a guitar to be signed.

If Kiss is a band that emphasizes artifice over substance, the Rock Style exhibit, which opens May 13, is equally superficial. At a media preview held on May 2, Rock Hall CEO and President Terry Stewart and Vice President of Exhibitions and Curatorial Affairs Jim Henke walked a group of journalists through the exhibit, which was still under construction. Consisting of a series of runways with mannequins wearing costumes worn by such luminaries as Elvis Presley, Bono, Madonna, Busta Rhymes, the Supremes, and Missy Elliott, the exhibit merely recasts some of the same rock gear that's on display throughout the year at the Rock Hall.

A revised version of an exhibit that opened last year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Rock Style explores the ways that rock and roll performers influence fashion, but doesn't take into account the fact that rock performers often ape styles that are already a part of youth culture. The analysis of fashion and rock that appears in the companion book to the exhibit isn't sophisticated enough to take these dynamics into consideration. The enormous tome, which would barely fit on a coffee table, features colorful pictures and text by designer Tommy Hilfiger (who received some help from Rolling Stone scribe Anthony DeCurtis). Hilfiger, an ex-hippie from the sleepy upstate New York town of Elmira, who now runs his own trendy clothing company, tries to assess the impact of rock luminaries such as Chuck Berry, George Clinton, and Diana Ross, but would have been better off writing cutlines -- his simplistic observations don't add anything to the book.

To mark the opening of the exhibit, the Rock Hall will throw the customary bash. Promoting the May 12 event as "the party of the year in Cleveland," the concert will feature performances by Cheap Trick, the Neville Brothers, and Michael Fredo. Given that their fashion sensibilities are either stagnant (Cheap Trick) or nonexistent (the Neville Brothers), these acts aren't particularly stylish. (Forgettable boy toy Fredo might seem the odd man out on this bill, but the fact that's he's managed by Tommy Hilfiger's brother Andy Hilfiger undoubtedly had something to do with his inclusion.) Tickets to the show, which is a benefit, range from $200 to $5,000 (for a premium VIP table that seats eight), and for that price, it had better be the party of the year.

Known primarily as a live band (and a tedious one, at that), Phish has gotten better in the studio with each album. Farmhouse, its first album of new material in two years, comes out on May 16, but on May 15, the Borders Books in Mentor (9565 Mentor Avenue) will hold a prerelease party from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Copies of the new record will be on sale, and while the band won't be there, free merchandise will be given out. Call 440-350-8168 for more information.

Send local music info and Tommy Hilfiger underwear to jeff.niesel@clevescene.com.


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